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27 June 2014

Children’s Difficulties with Grasping Nontraditional Advertising Tactics

Keywords: advertising, interview, kids, television, Western Europe, advertising literacy, computer, literacy, marketing, marketing strategy, persuasive tactics,

Kids marketers increasingly use ‘hidden’ forms of advertising to target children, such as brand placements in movies and games, program sponsorship, and advergames. In these nontraditional advertising formats products and brands are way less prominent, making it difficult for children to identify and grasp their commercial nature. A study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing confirms that children (6-10 years) have a lower understanding of the commercial intent of nontraditional advertising compared to traditional advertising, such as TV ads. Especially brand placements are hard for children to detect and understand. Advertising alerts offer potential in enhancing children’s understanding.

Take aways

  • Children understand the commercial intent of traditional advertising, such as TV, better than the intent of nontraditional advertising, such as brand placement in movies and games, program sponsorship, and advergames. 
  • Although older children (9-10 years) overall have a better advertising understanding than younger kids (6-7 years), they still experience difficulties with the commercial intent of nontraditional ads. 
  • Children find it most difficult to grasp the commercial nature of brand placements in movies and games. This implies that the less salient advertising is, the harder it is for children to identify and understand the commercial intent. 
  • Children’s ability to grasp the intent of nontraditional kinds of advertising can be enhanced by “cueing” them with advertising alerts (pictures illustrating the intent of advertising). 
  • This highlights the need for advertising alerts in order to help children better identify the commercial intent of nontraditional advertising.  

Study information

  • The question?

    Does children's understanding of television advertising differ from their understanding of less salient kinds of advertising, such as brand placements in movies and games and sponsorships? 

  • Who?

    134 children: 67 second- (ages 6-7) and 67 fifth-graders (ages 9-10) (42% were boys)

  • Where?

    United Kingdom

  • How?

    Each child was interviewed individually (for approximately 20 minutes). The children were first questioned about traditional (TV) advertising. Then they were shown two out of five nontraditional types of advertising: (1) movie brand placement: a clip from the movie Spiderman in which a can of Dr. Pepper was shown, (2) program sponsorship: a part of the soap opera Coronation Street in which Cadbury sweets were shown, (3) product licensing: a box of Nestlé Shrek cereal showing the character Shrek from the DreamWorks movie, (4) advergames: an excerpt of a game with in the background the red McDonald's "M", and (5) in-game brand placement: an image from the PlayStation 2 game Worms 3D with one of the characters holding a can of Red Bull energy drink. After exposure, children were asked for the purpose of the different types of advertising shown. Finally, they were asked to select two pictures that illustrated different explanations as to what ads are for. This was done in order to help children that experienced difficulties with articulating the advertising purposes earlier. Answers were coded and placed into different categories (from no advertising understanding to full understanding).

Facts and findings

  • Children's understanding of the purpose of traditional advertising (TV) is higher than their understanding of the purpose of nontraditional advertising (movie brand placement, program sponsorship, product licensing, advergames, and in-game brand placement). 
  • Older children (aged 9-10) understood both traditional and non-traditional advertising better than the younger ones (aged 6-7), however, the older ones also experienced more difficulties with grasping the intent of nontraditional than traditional advertising. 
  • Children had more difficulty understanding commercial messages that were highly embedded within the entertainment context (movie and in-game brand placement) than less embedded commercial messages (program sponsorship, product licensing, and advergames). 
  • An explanation is that brand placements are less salient, and therefore children’s focus of attention was more on the movie or game, which in turn contributed to less available cognitive resources to identify the brand placement and grasp its intent. 
  • Remarkable fact: When children received prompts (pictures that illustrated different explanations as to what ads are for) they were better able to indicate the commercial intent of brand placements. This illustrates the importance of helping kids identifying advertising purposes.